1989 was a significant time for the property industry: it marked the beginning of the end of a period of unprecedented growth in house prices as the market collapsed.
With average house prices peaking at just over £70,000 in May 1989, interest rates rose, prices fell - and suddenly property was no longer the safe investment it had been.
1989 was also the time that I chose to set up my own estate agency, so the timing wasn’t the best. Despite this, Andrew Granger & Co came through the stiff challenges of the 1990s recession, learning to adapt to a housing market that was (and still is) prone to peaks and troughs.
Against the backdrop of the 1990s housing crash and ensuing global recession, the company started life operating with just five staff from a small office in the affluent Leicestershire market town of Market Harborough.
Before starting Andrew Granger & Co I was a partner in Shakespear McTurk and Graham which was involved in estate agency, land agency, agriculture, commercial valuations as well as running Leicester’s Cattle Market, making it a great place to gain valuable experience across the local property market.
By the time I established Andrew Granger & Co I already had 21 years’ experience working as a partner in a surveying business, as well as five years’ experience with a national firm of surveyors.
One of the advantages that an independent agent has over the national chains is a high level of local knowledge. Our staff all live in the area, with many born nearby, and so have a real affection for the region.
They also know what kinds of properties sell or rent well in certain areas as well as how to achieve the best price. This means that they can pass on that expertise, knowledge and passion to our customers.
In the early days, we mainly offered land agency/agricultural and estate house sales. Despite the challenging conditions of the early 1990s, the company was doing well and so I bought additional businesses in Loughborough and Leicester City Centre in the 1990s.
We also expanded to larger premises on Market Harborough’s high street, giving us a prime central location across all sites. This enabled us to take on more staff offering a wider range of services.
We now have a thriving lettings department, regularly rated as number one in the area by Rightmove, as well as offering a variety of professional services, support with planning applications, surveys and valuations and commercial property management as well as offering expertise in equestrian and rural property – and of course, residential sales.
This has enabled us to offer a more integrated service and to pool expertise across different areas all within one company.
Location, location, location
Location has also been an important factor in the company’s success. Market Harborough, Loughborough and Leicester are all popular with commuters looking to move out of London and live somewhere more affordable. I believe this has helped offset market lows such as during the recession of 2008 when it became difficult for many people to get a mortgage.
All three of our locations have something special to offer. Harborough is just an hour from London via train and has a reputation as being one of Leicestershire’s most attractive towns with a great range of independent shops and plenty of restaurants and good schools.
Loughborough is a thriving university town and Leicester city centre has undergone significant investment and redevelopment, making it a lively and important cultural hub for the East Midlands – and still easily commutable to London as well as having two universities.
We have seen demand rise for housing and property services across all three locations, making for a thriving local property market that is not currently enjoyed everywhere.
Looking to the future
The housing market has always been influenced by the economic situation. Demand continues to outstrip supply and although measures like Help to Buy have gone some way to supporting first time buyers, there remains an air of uncertainty as we wait for Brexit to be resolved and its likely long term impact to be revealed.
However, interest rates remain low and employment levels are high, so there is reason for optimism. The housing market has always had its challenges. So in some ways, very little has changed.
The advent of the internet has been one of the major ways that buying, selling and renting property has changed. Many people now search for properties online but that doesn’t mean that the services of a local agent aren’t still important.
In fact, the share of the market taken by online agents has been far lower than originally forecast, due I think to the fact that people value the high levels of market expertise that only a local high street agent is able to offer.
It’s all about the customer. Provide the best possible service to your clients and potential clients - and wherever possible respond within 24 hours. Despite the three recessions that we have encountered over the last 30 years, Andrew Granger & Co has continued to grow and thrive.
I ascribe much of our success to the fact that the business is so diverse and that very fact, together with knowledgeable staff means we are able to grow - even through the most challenging times.
*Andrew Granger is founder of Leicestershire based independent agency Andrew Granger & Co